A Scottish Person Supporting England is an Impossibility: Reflections on World Cup Mania and Scottish National Identity
In this paper I explore the significance of Scottish football allegiances during the FIFA World Cup football championship in the summer of 2006. The Scottish national team failed to qualify for the 2006 championship. Contrary to simplistic expectations that Scots would support their English ‘partners’, however, polls instead suggested that less than one third of Scots would admit to supporting the English team. Furthermore, Scots lack of allegiance was widely interpreted by politicians and media commentators as symbolic of broader political allegiances and was hotly debated by senior politicians in both the Scottish and British Parliaments. Why should a sporting event be endowed with the powers of promoting or threatening British or Scottish unity? In contemporary Scotland, might such nationalist reflexes be considered simple racism? Or, is contempt for the English team a symbolic resistance to perceived English encroachment on economic and cultural life in Scotland? To consider these questions I examine contemporary understandings of racism, theories of nationalism including Bairner’s “sporting nationalism” (2001), and the utility of postcolonial theory for understanding continuing relations of power in the contemporary Scottish political, social and cultural context. I conclude by arguing that we are currently witnessing modern Scotland re-imagining itself as a nation (some would say a nation-state), and that football (sport) is one of the rare arenas in which Scotland can currently claim an ‘equal’ presence on the global stage. In line with Neumann’s (1996) theory of reciprocal shaping of national identities, I argue that Scottish football nationalism is contributing to Scotland’s resolution of its relationship with England as ‘other’, and the evolution of a new Scottish collective identity within a network of relations with other collectivities.
Keywords: Football, Soccer, Sporting Nationalism, National Identity, Collective Identity, Racism, Postcolonial Theory, Scotland, England, Britain
Dr. Leah P. Macfadyen
Research Associate & Instructor, Science Centre for Learning and Teaching (Skylight)